Are you seeing massive splashes of color (usually salmon or white) on bushes around town this time of year? Chances are it is the Mussaenda plant that is showing off an incredible display of flowers. Mussaenda plants are members of the Rubiacea family which includes coffee.
While there are over 200 known species of Mussaenda, only ten are found in cultivation that can be grown in Zone 10 (South Florida) and up to Zone 12, which is closer to the equator. The common one grown in this area is Mussaenda philippica, which has yellow flowers and white or salmon/pink sepals. The yellow flowers are only visible upon close inspection because they are overwhelmed by the very large spectacular sepals.
The Mussaenda plant is relatively fast growing and usually planted in full sun, although I have seen them blooming in partial shade. They grow best in well drained fertile sandy loam soil. It is usually grown as a specimen plant in the ground; however I have seen them grown in large tubs and pots around a patio. They are relatively tolerant of salt which makes them easy to grow in protected areas. Fortunately, they are free of major pests. Depending on weather conditions during the winter, the plant may lose its leaves temporarily until new leaves develop.
Propagation of the plants is relatively easy using hardwood cuttings. I have used 8-10 inch hardwood stems in March or April and placed them in a well-drained sandy soil mixture. The bottom of the stems is first covered with a root enhancing powder (found at nurseries and garden centers). Plants usually root in 6-8 weeks and can they be transferred to larger pots or directly in the soil.
Mussaenda plants can be obtained at various local nurseries including Living Color Garden Center and Jesse Durko’s Nursery. Three-gallon container plants sell for about $25.00.
You can learn more about this shrub and other plants by attending The Equality Park Garden Club which meets at the Pride Center every third Wednesday of the month at 7: 30 pm. The Pride Center is located at 2040 North Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors.
The Tropical Gardener
Chuck Nicholls, Master Gardener